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U.S. Women's Team

Sunil Gulati Denies 'Player Revolt' in Sermanni Sacking

John D. Halloran covers the U.S. women's team for American Soccer Now, and he participated in U.S. Soccer's conference call with federation president Sunil Gulati. Here is Halloran's take.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
April 07, 2014
8:23 PM
ON SUNDAY NIGHT, only a few hours after the United States women's national team defeated China 2-0, head coach Tom Sermanni was sent packing.

The timing of the decision seemed odd—the U.S. has a rematch against China schedule this Thursday—and a month removed from the team's poor performance at the Algarve Cup, in which the U.S. finished seventh overall.

In the hours immediately following the dismissal, many pundits began speculating that it was the result of a "player revolt."

But the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, spoke to the media on Monday and, while acknowledging that players had been consulted, he said the decision was not player-driven.

"Our dialogue with the players is ongoing. Pretty regularly...we'll talk to players. We've had discussions with players, with staff, with people around the team. This isn't a group of players coming to seek us out and saying, 'There's something wrong and we have to do something.'"

When asked what exactly led to the dismissal, especially considering Sermanni's 18-2-4 record, Gulati said it came down to multiple factors.

"It's three or four things. One of those is the subject of where the team is heading. Two is talking with people in and around the team. Whenever we have changes...with our national team program, we do that quite a bit. We also rely on our own assessment. Third, of course, is the results of the Algarve weren't what we had hoped for. The standards for this team are very high. That doesn't mean one loss, or even two losses would necessitate a change, but it's all of those factors."

Some speculation in the late hours of Sunday evening focused on a possible incident behind the scenes that may have led to the change, something Gulati also denied. "There is no specific event. I think very highly of Tom on a personal level and on a professional level. There is nothing like that whatsoever." Gulati also commented, "It's the end of a process."

And while Gulati said multiple factors were considered, it was also clear that the Algarve Cup was one of them. When speaking of the tournament in Portugal specifically, Gulati said, "Obviously the results didn't go the way we wanted. It's been a long time since the U.S. lost two games in a row, or went three without winning. That may have brought some of the issues that were of concern to the forefront."

One is left wondering, however, how fair it is to judge Sermanni on his results in the Algarve Cup, considering the U.S.'s opponents and key absences from the squad during the tournament. The U.S. tied Japan—and would have won had Hope Solo made a fairly routine save—and lost to a quality Swedish side 2-1.

Yes, the 5-3 loss to Denmark was a disaster, but the team was missing Alex Morgan and Lauren Holiday for the tournament and playing with Kelley O'Hara and Tobin Heath fresh off of injuries and not at 100%. All four players were key starters for the U.S. when they won gold in the 2012 Olympics and no matter how deep the U.S. squad is, their absence was obvious.

To his credit, Gulati did step up and take full responsibility for the decision to fire Sermanni.

"In the end, I had to make a decision, a decision made in concert with [U.S. Soccer] CEO Dan Flynn. We felt this was the best decision to make."

Where the U.S. goes from here, with World Cup qualifying only six months away, is anyone's guess.

"Over the next days and perhaps weeks," Gulati said, "we will decide on who is going to take the national team on a long-term basis, on a permanent basis."

In the short-term, the team will be led by former Pia Sundhage assistant and current Director of Development Jill Ellis. Gulati, however, seemed to rule Ellis out as a candidate for the job on a permanent basis, saying, "Jill is a strong candidate for virtually any job in our program. When we were in our search process two years ago [to replace Pia Sundhage], Jill took herself out of that process. We think very highly of Jill."

Some coaches' names that have been thrown about to lead the U.S. into World Cup qualifying over the next six months are former U.S. manager Tony DiCicco, current Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley, Houston Dash manager Randy Waldrum, and Tyreso manager Tony Gustavsson.

What do you think of the move? Do you believe that there was no player revolt? Do you think the timing was peculiar? Share your thoughts below.

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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